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March 21, 2008

The Best Friday

Good Friday is upon us. Or, as I called it last year, the best Friday. Again I am reminded--as I often am--of how foreign the cross is to the everyday North American. I don't mean that they've never heard of Christ, the church or the cross. They've heard of these things...but they've counted them foolish. What does it all mean to me? And if I believe what I say, does my lifestyle reflect it?

It was a year ago, around this time: the room was quiet and my companion and I sat at our computers. We’d been talking. Somehow animals rights had worked their way into our conversation, and I asked my friend who gives rights to people or animals. At some point, she said “The Almighty! The one whose son was on that cross!” and then, speaking of the cross, she said words I have not yet forgotten: “...That is the part that I don’t understand.”

"Why do you believe that Jesus died on the cross?" This question was posed to me by my co-worker, who had just found out that I was "religious". She had grown up in a Catholic school and to the best of her understanding, Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins. This didn't inhibit her from living with her boyfriend or getting hammered. In her estimation, if there was a Jesus, he apparently knew she'd sin, and he'd forgive her anyway.

Why don't these girls understand the cross? Doesn't their calendar have a Good Friday on it? Aren't there Gideon Bibles in most hotel rooms and crosses on steeples in most towns across Canada? A friend of mine who sold jewelry told me that the most popular items were the cross pendants. It is my guess that most people who have been raised in Canadian cities have heard something about Jesus and the cross. But most would say with these girls "Why? I don’t understand.”

There are certain parts of the Bible that one doesn’t need to understand to be saved from the penalty for sin, but the cross is not one of those parts. Paul was clear in 1 Cor. 1:23 that as believers “we preach Christ crucified” (see also 1 Cor. 2:2). That is core to our message. We've got street preachers, tracts and billboards about Jesus dying. Why don't people get it?

Paul knew that the message of the cross evoked different responses. To Jews—those who had the Old Testament Scriptures and knew them—the message of the cross is “a stumbling block”. Jesus wasn’t that Messiah that they’d expected. But to the Gentiles, the cross is just plain “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:23). I believe that the answer to why people don't "get it" is that we live in a Gentile culture. They don't know the Old Testament. They aren't waiting for a Saviour, at least not the one the Old Testament describes. Jayden said to me what Paul said some 2000 years ago: “I am a Gentile. That cross part is foolishness to me.”

Almost every Sunday, I drink grape juice and eat a cube of bread. I have been called, and to me the message of Christ's cross is "power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24). It is no longer foolishness to me. I let that sweet message sink in. But I find in myself a startling lack of urgency to share the good news...and therefore I wonder how much that message has really become a part of me. I know that I live among Gentiles, but yet I don't try as hard as I could to share the Word of God. So how will they come to faith? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God...

This Sunday, after Good Friday, I'll probably have my Welch's again. But I pray that this Sunday, as that juice slides through my singing lips and splashes on my heart of stone, that it will find a groove in which to run, and wear away the hardness.

"these people honour me with their lips
but their hearts are far from me"

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